I went to the first of a series of Spring Friday morning brief lectures for mental health professionals- what are called Grand Rounds. I had to listen to 10 minutes of it’s so good to see everyone, and this is fourteenth year we have been doing this, and we are looking forward to the warmer weather and hope we don’t get any more snow and ice, and we have some good speakers… You have good speakers- can we please hear one of them? We only have one hour and 15 minutes for this. Can we please skip the aural foreplay and get down to some cognitive intercourse? I have always craved deep conversation and had no patience for small talk. I felt this way my entire life, even before I knew who I was had a name (Introvert). I could not understand the concept of small talk- just get to the point.

So why Intros have such difficulty doing small talk:

1. Small talk creates barriers to communication.

Introverts communicate directly. Those who don’t understand us (all too often our extraverted brothers and sisters, or sometimes, just people who are assholes) can find us too direct and abrupt.

2. Small talk is meaningless and shallow.

Why would I want to review the obvious? Introverts crave depth. Small talk has no substance. Boy it’s hot today. Yes, I know, that is why I am sweating so profusely. It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity. Really? Try sticking your head under a broiler and see if that is uncomfortable, and then tell me the heat doesn’t matter. Boy, how about that game last night. What game? I was reading, not living my life vicariously through a sport team I will never play on. (Why do fans say We are not doing too good this year, I don’t know if We are gonna make it. Unless you have a mouse in your pocket, there is no We, you are not on the team). Boy, my dog really loves riding in the car. Most dogs do.

3. Small talk is not a productive use of time.

For me, this is partly introversion, and partly my Type A personality. A misconception is that introverts are dull and unemotional. Au contraire, Introverts get excited about ideas and discovering new things. We can’t wait to let someone else know about what new thing we have learned, and share it. Small talk gets in the way of this.

OK, I am done ranting. Small talk is one of those things that is necessary to get along with the rest of the world, at least to a degree. I look at small talk as something I have to produce in the smallest quantity possible in order to get things moving along. Small talk is required when you are dealing with extraverts. Be patient with them. Small talk gets the speakers warmed up, so they ease into the main topic. Small talk can also be a form of flirting; an excuse to talk to someone you want to meet, so I grudgingly admit it has its purpose. When it comes to a sharing of ideas, Extras need a little time to warm up compared to Intros, and one way they do that is to observe the trivial. Ask open ended questions or give a genuine compliment. Some topics for small talk which are more palatable for Intros include:

  1. That sandwich/soup/pastry looks really good – where did you get that… blah blah blah, so on and so forth. OK, sorry, bad attitude. Let me try again:
  2. Comment on and ask about a brand of clothing they are wearing, how is the quality, and ask them where they got it.
  3. Same thing for any gear- watch, laptop, or a piece of jewelry.
  4. Comment on or ask a question about local history or a feature of the environment, the crime rate, job prospects, or housing prices.

Introverts could benefit from learning the art of small talk. Think of it as learning a foreign language. You have to communicate with foreign people (e.g., extraverts) in a manner they can understand.


Written by David A. Porter, MA, LADC
Private Practice, Otter Creek Associates
Adjunct Faculty in Psychology and Criminology, Community College of Vermont & Burlington College
Freelance Behavioral Science writer